Idaho high school principal Mark Heleker and his family are living in an overcrowded motel room after their home was set on fire, allegedly by a criminal quartet of one middle school student and three high school students, the oldest 16. The arson attack was an apparent retaliation against the principal, who had suspended the students for drug-related activity.
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According to Inside Edition, Heleker, his wife, Lori, and 24-year-old daughter were home on the night of the attack, their son, Brian, is studying in an Arizona college.
“He’ll be home from college in a week but I don’t think he’s going to stay here.”
The Heleker family move around by borrowing cars from family and friends. They have enjoyed an outpouring of immense support from Payette High School students who launched a GoFundMe campaign to get their lives back on track. As of the time of this report, over $5,000 has been raised.
The Helekers have also received encouraging phone calls from people as far away as Alaska. Heleker, a long time fan of the Green Bay Packers, received a memorabilia package, a football signed by all members of his favorite team, and a personal card from star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, when they found out he had lost his prized football collection in the fire.
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Heleker, a former mayor who had been with the school district for more than 20 years, said his daughter woke him shortly after 1 a.m. after arriving from work and wanted to walk the dog. She noticed a fire engulfing the front of the house.
“She came running up the stairs, screaming that the garage was on fire. I pulled some clothes and yelled at her to get a hose and buckets, but she said it was too big for that.”
They escaped with a few possessions and pets. Everything else they lost in the fire, including three vehicles parked in the driveway. Heleker and the Payette police never suspected that it was a case of arson until Brian, Heleker’s son, who recently graduated from Payette High School, stumbled on a Snapchat post containing the phrase “Burn bitch burn” accompanied with a fire emoji, posted by an alleged culprit.
Payette police were contacted and followed a paper trail that led to students referencing other students who talked about the fire emanating from a plastic trash can, a fact that the police never made public before that time.
Four culprits have been arrested and charged with the crime. Three of them are identified as Donovan Ferreira, 16, Travis Kenney, 14, and Paul Hendrix-Mills, 14. The fourth student, 15, has not been arraigned and his case remains sealed.
The Idaho Statesman reports that the teens would be tried as adults, in line with state law, which states anyone 14 years or older found guilty of committing certain felony crimes like murder, robbery, rape, and first-degree arson would be tried as such. Ferreira and Mills have been charged with felony conspiracy to commit arson, and felony arson. Kenney has been charged with conspiracy to commit arson. The penalties carry up to 25 years in prison.
These teens are not new to crime. Ferreira has been charged with misdemeanor use of an illicit substance and a felony conspiracy to deliver or manufacture an illicit substance. In 2014, Kenney was charged with two counts of felony burglary, one count of misdemeanor malicious injury to property, and two counts of misdemeanor unlawful entry.
Ferreira, Kenney, and Mills are set for a preliminary hearing, March 14, at 9:30 a.m., where a judge would determine if the case should be scheduled for a full trial.
Payette Police Chief Mark Clark was disturbed by the insensitivity of the suspects and failure to realize the magnitude of their crimes.
“I guess what I find astonishing is the fact that we have four teenage males who did not understand what could have happened by lighting a plastic garbage can on fire while it’s up against somebody’s house. We could have easily had a homicide here and people could have died in this fire,” he said.
[Image via Shutterstock/Knumina Studios]